A Nevada cattle rancher group expressed sympathy for embattled cattleman Cliven Bundy in his increasingly tense confrontation with the federal government over grazing rights, but it stopped short of getting involved.
"Nevada Cattlemen's Association does not feel it is our place to interfere in the process of adjudication in this matter," the group said Wednesday. "NCA believes the matter is between Mr. Bundy and the federal courts."
The group also urged Bundy and his supporters -- many of whom are armed -- not to take the law into their own hands, saying the "rule of law" and the "system set forth in our Constitution" must be obeyed.
"While we cannot advocate operating outside the law to solve problems, we also sympathize with Mr. Bundy’s dilemma," the group said. "With good-faith negotiations from both sides, we believe a result can be achieved which recognizes the balance that must be struck between private property rights and resource sustainability."
The Bureau of Land Management says Bundy has trespassed on federal lands in southern Nevada since the 1990s and owes more than $1 million in back grazing fees.
The bureau on Saturday released about 400 head of cattle it had seized from Bundy after angry protesters gathered at his ranch in his support.
Bundy says he doesn't recognize federal authority of the land and insists it belongs to Nevada.
Many of the protesters supporting Bundy left the ranch after the cattle was returned. But some remain, leading authorities to fear a possible violent confrontation.
Despite refusing to get involved directly in the dispute, the cattleman's group had plenty of criticism for the Bureau of Land Management, accusing the agency of worrying more about the endangered desert tortoise — which can be found on federal land used by Bundy — than the concerns of ranchers.
The group says the tortoise habitats gave the bureau the rationale they needed to order a significant reduction in Bundy's cattle numbers, but added there is no "scientific proof" to suggest cattle historically have harmed the desert tortoise.
"The situation in Nevada stands as an example [of] the federal agencies’ steady trend toward elevating environmental and wildlife issues over livestock grazing," the advocacy group said. "Well-Âintentioned laws such as the Endangered Species Act … are being implemented in a way that are damaging to our rights and to our Western families and communities."
The cattlemen's group added that ranchers such as Mr. Bundy have had their "backs against the wall as, increasingly, federal regulations have infringed on their public land grazing rights and the multiple-use [land] management principle."
"This is not only devastating to individual ranching families; it is also causing rural communities in the West to [wither] on the vine," the group said.